Empathic tendencies have been associated with interpersonal and psychological benefits, but empathy at extreme levels or in combination with certain personal characteristics may contribute to risk for depression. This study tested the moderating role of cognitive emotion regulation in depression’s association with empathy using nonlinear models. Young adults (N=304; 77% female; M=19 years) completed measures of cognitive emotion regulation strategies, depression, and affective and cognitive empathy. Individuals with good regulation had low levels of depression overall and their depression symptoms were lowest when levels of affective empathy were average. Individuals with poor regulation had high levels of depression overall, particularly when levels of empathy were moderate to high. Extremely high and low levels of cognitive empathy were associated with elevated depression, and this association was not moderated by regulation. These findings suggest tendencies to respond empathically to others’ needs is neither an adaptive nor maladaptive characteristic but rather moderate empathy, particularly in the context of good regulation, may offer the greatest protection against depression.
Tully, Erin; Ames, Alyssa M.; Garcia, Sarah E.; and Donohue, Meghan R., "Quadratic associations between empathy and depression and the moderating influence of dysregulation" (2016). Psychology Faculty Publications. 144.